Respice finem

Call me a rootless cosmopolitan, but (you could feel that “but” coming, couldn’t you gentle reader?) the wide world would be lost on me without a sense of place. In the moment of space and time, there is location, and it follows us about. In starting upon any journey there must be a point of departure, and in life itself one must come from somewhere. Perhaps we have forgotten.

It might be a place you despise. Many of my friends come from places like that; I love hearing them trash their own origins. Always, there is love at the root of it; but how well it can be concealed!

Some Hebridean I have come to know through the mixed miracle of email has it just right. He was born in South Uist, but has hardly been back. His love for the place has grown in his absence from it, in the usual Caledonian or Hibernian manner. Yet it expands. His sense of being from a croft or blackhouse, a long time ago; from an island, from an archipelago, from Scotland, from the British Isles, from Europe, from the planet Earth, is telescoped in a single soul on what we might call the Aristotelian focal principle. True love is something that cannot be escaped.

Among the dangers of travel is homesickness. I was myself, as a once-girlfriend put it, “kicked around the globe” in childhood and youth, and in a moment of fury, she described me as an empty can, shaped by this experience. A man of dents and creases. I had to acknowledge the truth of her observation, for as a consequence of my wanderings, I already felt nostalgia for many different places; and that sense of loss that comes with many deaths. Persons to whom I was once so close — when we were young — removed over seas of space and time. And now I hear of the death of someone in his seventies, whom I had not seen since he was thirty, and weep for all the lost years.

There is an old Japanese Buddhist quatrain I once carried around in my heart, and in my shoes on the open road. It is a prayer of pilgrimage; perhaps a pilgrimage to nowhere:

Really there is no East and West:
Where, then, is the North and the South?
Illusion makes the world close in,
Enlightenment opens it on every side.

All roads lead to Rome, as once was true throughout the West, and continues true in the Catholic chest. And in every Christian: to Heaven’s Gate in Jerusalem Wall. (Roman Catholics are Christians, incidentally.)

Once I was on foot in the north of Spain, following what I did not fully realize was a pilgrim route to the shrine of Saint James the Great: the Camino de Santiago. That was in my pre-Christian state; in fact, I never got there. It is among my regrets that I did not carry on.

From here to there we go, in time, even if we don’t in space. Our own home may become unrecognizable; if we returned as a ghost in a thousand years, we might be dispossessed of our last illusion. There is no here, here, on which to rely, and everything crumbles in the passage through the ages. All change is for the worse, as Father Faber said, including change for the better. But, “those are pearls that were his eyes,” &c. Everything will be transformed.

We can know of our beginnings, but in the old Roman proverb, respice finem, we must “consider the end.”